Northland Pines junior Madi Meisenburg (No. 9) and sophomore Kirkland Williams (No. 5) celebrate a Northland Pines point against the Lakeland T-Birds on Pink Night.
Northland Pines junior Madi Meisenburg (No. 9) and sophomore Kirkland Williams (No. 5) celebrate a Northland Pines point against the Lakeland T-Birds on Pink Night.
It was a great week for girls volleyball, according to Pines head coach Julie Smith, who’s team last week took care of business in two Great Northern Conference (GNC) matches.

First, traveling on the road to Antigo last Tuesday night the team didn’t waste time, sweeping the Red Robins on their home court with sets of 25-15, 28-26 and 30-28.

“I was completely impressed by the girls ability to finish,” said Smith after the Antigo match. “That is something that we have struggled with and been working on. It showed against Antigo. We knew once that happened it would begin to develop an overall confidence within the team which we hope carries into the end of season play.”

For Pines, it carried right through to last Thursday night where in front of one of the larger crowds so far this season on Pink Night as the Lady Eagles soared through the first two sets over rival Lakeland, winning 25-21 in both to near their second GNC sweep in three days.

The third set would prove to be a pivitol one for both teams as Lakeland was able to squeak out a 27-25 win to force a fourth set, but the way Pines played in the second half of the set to force the match to extra points proved to be crucial in the fourth set 25-23 win which clinched the match 3-1.

“Again, we were comfortable with closing out that match, and the girls did a good job after losing that third set of recovering and not letting it get to the fifth,” said Smith. “It was just an all-around great night for our school and community as everyone in the fieldhouse was dressed in pink for breast cancer awareness. There also was excitement in the air by all of the players. It was great to see them play the sport they love and come together for a great cause. It doesn’t get any better than that!”

Smith said the fourth set against Lakeland brought a number of challenges, both mentally and from a lineup standpoint.

“We needed to change up our offense due to not being able to play Sofi Tranberg in that set,” said Smith. “She had played max sets between Junior Varsity and Varsity, so wasn’t available. The girls though adjusted  well, and again they showed how they could overcome and push through for a finish.”

Madi Meisenburg led the way offensively with 15 kills followed by Paris Croker with 12. Maleea Eggleston also added seven kills to go along with 19 assists for Olivotti and 14 for Huelskamp.

Cassidy Sternhagen had 25 digs to go along with 16 from Eggleston and 11 from Meisenburg. Croker added six service aces followed by three each from Huelskamp and Eggleston.

After falling to Lakeland in the first round of the GNC tournament only weeks earlier, the win over the Lady T-Birds this time proved to Smith that her team is growing and gaining more confidence as the season gears up toward the playoffs.

Combined with a solid win over Antigo in the same week and it had the Pines coach singing the praises of many of her players, especially her two setters.

“We have changed up our offense a few times lately to adjust to the players in attendance, as well as the opposing team, which is not easy,” she said. “However, Sami Huelskamp and Hadley Olivotti have been doing a great job hustling, reading and setting up the plays. They both have been working hard and it shows in their ability to transition on the fly at times.”

Against Antigo last Tuesday, Huelskamp posted eight assists while Olivotti had a great night with 17 assists.

Though Pines swept Antigo, it was anything but an easy match according to Smith.

“Antigo came out to play for sure, and put up more of a fight than when we saw them at the conference tournament,” said Smith. “But once we adjusted and settled in, the girls played with grit”

 Antigo came out strong in the first set with a quick three-point lead until Cassidy Sternhagen went on a six-point serving run to get Pines back in front.

“That was the start of our comeback and the girls hustled their defense and played strong at the net to take control of that set to win 25-15,” said Smith.

In the second set, Antigo again took the first five-point lead early before some strong net play from Paris Croker (15 kills, four blocks), Madi Meisenberg (nine kills) and Kirkland Williams (fou kills, two blocks) turned the tide.

“That and the fantastic back row play from Maleea Eggleston (28 digs) and Sami Haiduk and Sami Huelskamp (14 digs each) we were able to seal the deal in three tough sets,” said Smith. “Kirkland Williams and Marykate Kusick may not be stat leaders, right now, but we rely on them very much to keep the play going up at the net and to take care of any of the short plays that come our way.”

The team was scheduled to play at Mosinee on Tuesday of this week, but the game was canceled due to COVID-19 precautions. Since there are no open dates, the game will result in a forfeit and a win for Mosinee.

This Saturday, Oct. 9, Pines will take part in the second GNC tournament of the season hosted also by Mosinee starting at 10 a.m. Pines will face Tomahawk, Rhinelander and Medford.